The pandemic has transformed the equation of streaming. The entire world went into a lockdown, confining us to the walls of our house, our family/roommates, and the mobile screen. I’ll be honest — I was addicted to TikTok Lives and spent hours watching TikTokers dance, mimic, and style their homes or outfits. After the TikTok ban, I naturally took to Instagram Lives to observe what people were doing. Live-streaming, whether voice or video, has been having its moment in our lives ever since.

And this brings us to an important question: is streaming the new reality TV?

Not the full-blown Kardashian-style plots, but are content creators getting there? Let’s dig in!

China’s Streaming Scene

49-year-old Taiwanese singer & composer Will Liu’s identity was pretty much attached to Chinese superstar Jay Chou. But the pandemic stirred the pot as Will and his wife Vivi Wang started live-streaming their workout routines on Douyin, a Chinese streaming app. The duo earned millions of followers within a month, and that was when the internet identified him without Chou’s shadow.

Source: Chen Lihong/VCG/Getty Images

Will and Vivi aren’t one of China’s most-coveted influencers alone — globally, Will has accumulated millions of fans, which led to WillLiu, a global DAO that incentivises exercising and fitness.

Liu Mama, a Chinese farmer with the help of her son-in-law started streaming her life — she’d post comedy skits or stream herself working in the farms or harvesting vegetables. Liu is no cookie cutter influencer, and you’d see her get real on the camera. Liu Mama reportedly earns millions of dollars, and as of now, she streams recipes and even sells through it. Streaming has been mainstream in China, and whether it’s a farmer, tech entrepreneur, pop star, or a former Olympics star — many have reclaimed their fame through streaming, offering followers more than just a slice of their lives.

Live Streaming Factories

A report by South China Morning Post discusses the underlying ugly part of the streaming business. The live-streaming celebrity factories house influencers within their premises and monitor them. The piece says, “the influencers take about 720 hours of live broadcasting over three months to earn thousands of followers. For the whole of that period, and indeed beyond, would-be streaming stars can expect to be closely monitored, with many agents known to use peepholes in studio doors to keep a beady eye on their hosts at work.”

But these live-streaming and audio-calling services aren’t limited to China alone. A few years ago, certain Chinese dating apps and Indian call centres took over the market to cash in on loneliness. Apps like Bigo Live, Uplive, LivU, and L’amour were top-downloaded apps, which offered paid subscriptions and accepted virtual gifts. As a matter of fact, Bigo, which encouraged obscene content, even hired formally and said streamers could earn up to a lakh monthly.

Read more about it here.

Those who watched Ayushmann Khurrana’sDream GirlandKonkana Sen Sharma & Bhumi Pednekar’s Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare are surely familiar with what I’m talking about. In both movies, Ayushmann and Bhumi work at love and sex chat call centres under pseudonyms. In Dream Girl, Ayushmann’s popularity prompts his boss to offer him a car and a Bluetooth set for taking calls on the go.

If you think about it, this is a lot similar to the live-streaming factories. Time is indeed money! But in most cases, users aren’t talking to human beings — instead, it’s bots that are chit-chatting.

It’s a Whole New World

…away from Clubhouse.

On a different note, streaming on Twitch or YouTube is quite common, but for those who prefer audio, Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces have found a space. While many have had enough of Clubhouse, users from tier-2 and tier-3 towns widely use ShareChat. Offering voice-based chat rooms that you can enter and have conversations with, these rooms too come with a host who moderates the content. Of course there’s nothing quite like this in the regional content market space, but it’s no easy feat that ShareChat reported it has about 10 million monthly active users (MAUs) in 2021.

And then there’s Mentza — an app that allows creators to host 20-minute live audio conversations and says it’s democratising real-time access to different people and their stories. While I vividly remember receiving an email from them, I clearly lost track of what they were up to after signing up. Because the next thing I noticed was their Jaipur Literary Festival partnership, which roped in plenty of digital events we could tune into. This app also allows exploring former audio portfolios that are classified under diverse creators.

A report by Statista says that in 2021, globally, users spent 550 billion hours on mobile live-streaming apps. The uptick in streaming platforms is closely yoked to the creator economy; from the looks of it, it’s beyond social media. The conversations are innately more pally because these apps revolve around themes tied to personal and professional lives. While you’ll find someone discussing issues with parents in one room, you’ll find another room where users chip in advice on dealing with difficult bosses. There’s space for every conversation and concern — perhaps the familiarity where you recognise someone by their voice, surroundings or demeanour that makes streaming apps highly downloadable with high in-app purchases.

And are they the new reality TV? Yup, fo sho! I guess they’ll retain that status for a really long time.

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